Jian Zhicheng was casualty of pressure to go no-kill
Part I of a three-part series
TAIPEI, Taiwan––Veterinarian Jian Zhicheng, director of the Xinwu Animal Protection and Education Centre, on May 12, 2016 killed herself using euthanasia drugs, after becoming distraught over having to kill dogs for whom the shelter had no cage space.
Built to house up to 500 dogs and 100 cats, the Xinwu shelter––like most open-admission animals shelters worldwide––is reportedly almost always operating near maximum capacity, seldom with more than enough space available than is necessary to accommodate the next emergency impoundment.
Social media bullying
Reported People’s Daily Online, “Jian Zhicheng allegedly became upset after animal rights activists sent her threatening messages and even called her a ‘butcher with beauty,’” after she described the realities of shelter overcrowding in a television newscast.
Said Taiwan SPCA cofounder Connie Chiang, “There are many news articles going around, some later ones revealing that perhaps she killed herself not only because she had to euthanize animals, but to protest the broken system.”
New law mandates no-kill
Chiang mentioned “Pressure from her superiors and pressure from the fact that people keep dumping animals at shelters, causing the shelter to be always over capacity. This will be an even bigger problem especially starting next February,” Chiang predicted to ANIMALS 24-7, “when all of the shelters in Taiwan are to become no-kill shelters due to the new zero-euthanasia policy that passed the legislature last year.
“If someone in a community reports a dog to be captured off the streets,” Chiang explained, “the shelter will have three days to go and catch the dog, causing much pressure for all shelter staff.
A vet may be cleaning cages
“Staff at shelters are given a lot of pressure from their superiors and from the public,” Chiang continued, “and they are not given many resources to work with. Due to the lack of employees and training, many shelter staff have to do more than two or three jobs. A vet not only has to care for the health of animals, but may also be out cleaning cages, doing adoptions, and even answering cruelty reports.
“The government’s only answer is to provide more funding for shelters,” Chiang said. “There is not much being done about the source of all these unwanted animals, such as the reproduction of feral animals, or the pet abandonment issue, or illegal puppy mills.
Fearing the worst
“With the zero-euthanasia policy beginning next year, animals groups in Taiwan are fearing for the worst,” Chiang finished, “that shelters will [always] be over capacity, leading to a decrease in animal welfare, and that people will continue to dump dogs at shelters because now they won’t feel so bad since the shelters won’t euthanize.”
Most shelters in Taiwan have already been overcrowded for decades. Cultural reluctance to euthanize even severely suffering animals, intertwined with the Buddhist faith of about a third of the Taiwan population, led in the 1980s and 1990s to some government shelters simply allowing impounded dogs to cannibalize each other or starve to death.
Legislation adopted in 1998 introduced reforms, including the practice of population control killing using the same methods commonly used in the west. But teaching staff the methods and enforcing compliance with the law took most of another decade, during which time a western-inspired “no kill” movement gained momentum.
Today, Chiang told ANIMALS 24-7, “There are some groups trying to push for neuter/return to be legalized and written into the law,” as the recommended response to homeless animals, to keep dogs and cats from being impounded into shelters from which they might have little chance of adoption.
What strays should be captured?
“Also,” Chiang said, “they are pushing for the government to regulate what sort of strays should be captured by the government and which ones should be left alone on the streets, instead of going out to catch all strays in an area if someone makes a complaint to the government.
“However,” Chiang continued, “The Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan,” founded by Buddhist monk Wu Hung, who had worked six years to win passage of the 1998 law, “ is very against writing neuter/return into in the law. So right now animal groups are very divided.”
But Taiwan itself is very divided.
About 15 million of the national human population of 23 million people live in the intensely urbanized Taipei area, at the extreme north of the island nation, where most of the dogs and cats are pets, or are descended from lost or abandoned pets, in an environment affording some suitable habitat for feral cats, but little or none for street dogs.
Outside the Taipei area, however, most of Taiwan is agrarian and rural. Street dogs and feral cats still have their traditional roles and habitat in villages and around farms.